Volume 6 / Issue 1 SPRING 2020

1 0 S p i r i t ua l i t y S t u d i e s 6 - 1 S p r i n g 2 0 2 0 different agendas: the usually dominant verbal, binary left hemisphere analysing and dividing things into their constituent parts, like a spotlight; and in contrast the usually neglected, silent, unitary, intuitive right-brain appreciating things whole, in context, moment by moment, like a flood - light. Sociology and anthropology have also revealed significant commonalities of social groupings and behaviour. All these scientific observations combine to allow us at least an intel - lectual grasp of multiple cosmic inter-connections. Importantly, though, in terms of the spiritual journey, we can also both improve our chances of experiencing universal oneness and develop our understanding of this vital principle of existence, through what I callwisdom exercises . It is possible, our destiny even, to know this sacred unity personally, not just intellectually but through the direct perceptive capacity of the human soul; to experience it as a deeply seated, life-chang - ing, indelible and incontrovertible truth. It is only through having such spiritual experiences, that allows a person to feel wonderfully, vibrantly and eternally connected to the divine totality of the universe, to all nature, and through this to everything and everyone else, to every other person, regardless of age, race, belief-system, colour, gender or anything. This kind of intuitive awareness, whether come by gradually or through a sudden epiphany, marks the entry-point to re-integration of Ego and soul. This is the start of the homecoming phase of our pilgrimage journey. What changes as a person moves into the integration stage ? Aware of universal connectivity means naturally and spontaneously feeling motivated to take increasing responsibility for one’s thoughts, words and actions; not only this, but importantly also for what we do not speak up about and things left undone. Instead of prizing security and leisure, position, possessions and power over others, we increasingly recognise that spiritual growth occurs through letting go, and through engaging with adversity, our own and that of others, rather than by persistently trying to avoid or anaesthetise ourselves from it. And this leads us to discover and adopt a set of spiritual, as against worldly, values, such as (to name a few): compassion, forgiveness, generosity, gratitude, honesty, humility, frugality, peace, joy and love . These are among the alchemical elements essential to wisdom and are the attributes of what I would call supreme mental health, which is much more, of course, than simply the absence of mental illness. 7 Growing inWisdom So, what are wisdom exercises? How do we change, become spiritually mature, and grow in wisdom? It is a big subject, but let’s get started with another theme from our focal point this evening: the library. In addition to words and books, something else we tend to associate with a library is silence. I often say this: Spirituality is where the deeply personal meets the universal ; so let me tell you a personal story. I make no great apology for doing so, on the grounds that we do well to share instructive stories of our personal spiritual journeys with each other. I hope you will like this one because it’s about an occasion, both momentous and ordinary, when I had “the feeling that God was speaking directly into my ear”. Once upon a time I lived in Australia. It was the 1970s, and there I associated briefly with some Tibetan Buddhist lamas. I learned a lot from them; in particular, how to meditate. Back in England in the early 80s, deliberately taking time out, not having worked for many months because completely unsure what to do next, I went to a newly established Buddhist retreat centre in Cumbria, on the banks of Morecombe Bay. I should mention that my (Anglican) Christian practice had been in abeyance for some time. I had not been to church for several years; and I was sitting alone in silent meditation in the meditation room at this place one afternoon when the Lord’s Prayer started running repeatedly through my other - wise utterly still mind, to be followed by the words and tunes of hymns from my childhood. You may know this one, a wellloved traditional Irish hymn from the 8th century: Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart, Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art, Be thou my best thought in the day and the night, Both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light (Byrne and Hull 1986, 552). “Well,” I thought to myself, “You are in the wrong place, Lar - ry!” At that stage, the religious life appealed to me, and I had begun thinking of the possibility of becoming a Buddhist lay person, or even a monk. But I knew I was not a Buddhist, and as it turned out God had other plans. The next day I walked in warm sunshine through the retreat centre garden and a patch of woodland, down to the banks of the bay, where there was a stone bench. Once again, I sat alone in stillness and silence, going deep enough into a trance to become oblivious for a time to myself and my surroundings. I do not know how long I was there, but suddenly I was fully awake and alert, and there were words, as if put straight from the void into my head; strong, clear and authoritative. “You are a psychiatrist, Larry. That is what you have trained to do... Go and do that!”